2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,300 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Over on LinkedIn I asked the question “Are there differences between different forms of dance which influence dancer’s drive to professional status?” Specifically,

This is a rather broad question. I believe all professional dancers have put in the hard work required to get to professional status otherwise they would not be there. But are there differences that help guide outcomes to direct dancers to one form or another. It seems with only a few exceptions, most dancers start at a young age and usually in ballet class. What do you think attracts only some to become professional classical ballet dancers and many others to branch into other forms of dance (contemporary, modern, music theatre, aerial, just to name a few)? Does opportunity play a large part, or are there many other factors?

I would like to say I have enjoyed the spirited conversation that the question provoked. The responses open up many dimensions of the original question that I posed.

If you want to join in the conversation please feel free.

Guest post by Susan R. Lin

Susan Lin is a dancer in the San Francisco Bay Area who is writing a series of posts of her own experiences, and interviews she has had with professional ballet dancers. She is the author of Dancing With Joy in which she shares her experience of dance. Her blogs (she has several), articulate how she is “Discovering the wonders of life through a corporate career, dance, and music, [and she] is incorrigibly curious about how it all fits together from the lens of culture, communications, and interpersonal interactions.”  Dance plays a large part in her life, she says: “My first love is classical ballet, but Chinese classical and ethnic dance is where my performing heart lies.” 

Although there is a particular “look” of a classical dancer – slim body, long neck, legs, and arms, arched feet and open hips – what is a dancer but a human being, and each of us is unique. It may not be immediately evident in a line of corps dancers in a traditional classical ballet company’s production of Swan Lake, but if you look closely enough or watch each of those dancers in class or rehearsal I guarantee you will see distinct qualities not only in their bodies, but in their approach to movement. In other ensembles, the variety of physicality is a key element to the aesthetic.

Given the unique qualities of body and movement, how does a dancer find the right place for his or her career? I took a quick dive to explore this through live interviews with several professional ballet dancers of varying backgrounds, supplemented by online videos and my own experience. While it is not an empirical study by any means, it has given me precious insight into one of the key factors that makes or breaks a dancer’s motivation to carry on.

What I came away with is that the journey of finding one’s own place is ultimately less about fitting in to a particular company or style; it is about trying on different “skins” – whether artistically and culturally – and asking oneself the difficult question of whether the current job is right.

In the stories these dancers shared with me, I heard the following thematic questions emerge: What is my own skin: my internal artistic style and personality? Where can I be in my own skin and still have a fulfilling, ever-growing, and collaborative experience?

I’ll share these stories with you in a multi-part series, since each dancer is an instrument and vehicle not only for an artistic director or choreographer’s vision, but for his or her own self-actualization. I believe they deserve to be heard one at a time, to further convey the sense of individuality.

Junna Ige – Finding Home
In her fifth season dancing with Ballet San Jose, this bright-eyed dancer is pint-sized but dances with an expansiveness that makes her limbs appear miles long. “There are very limited opportunities for the serious ballet student in Japan,” she laments, and in her mid-teens Ige left for northern Germany to further her studies.

Susan Lin Fitting In Junna IgeWhile she consistently received top marks at the academy, when it came time to find a job she came out empty handed time and time again. After a huge effort auditioning in some eight countries in Europe, Ige headed back to Japan – the worst possible outcome for her – dejected and lost.

In Japan, Ige taught ballet to little girls, and worked at Starbucks. “Why was I even doing this?” she asked herself, referring not only to her predicament, but to all her years training in the hopes of becoming a professional, classical ballet dancer. She was told over and over again at auditions that the reason there was no contract for her was: “You’re too short.”

Somehow, despite the heartbreak of so much rejection – not to mention money spent traveling for auditions – Ige decided to give herself and ballet one more chance. She flew to North America and auditioned for several companies. “I’d never been to America. I thought, maybe they would see things differently.”

At Ballet San Jose, she was encouraged upon seeing dancers of different sizes and heights. When then artistic director Dennis Nahat told her that he saw artists and not just bodies, she felt hope. When she was offered an apprentice contract four years ago, she took it and never looked back.

“Now I feel like I can be myself,” Ige smiles, and her voice cannot hide her joy. “I realized I’d spent so long wanting to be something I wasn’t. I wanted not to be short. I wanted to be tall, to be something else. But I’m not; I’m me. And at Ballet San Jose, I was hired because I’m me!”

This fortunate circumstance has allowed Ige to gain confidence as a person and as a dancer, and it has paid off: she was promoted towards the end of the last season and is now a soloist with the company.

And, this year she carried the tremendous pressure and privilege of dancing the lead character of Kitri in Wes Chapman’s production of Don Quixote on opening night, partnered by no less than international superstar José Manuel Carreño. She pulled the full-length ballet off with determination, sass, and showed us glimpses of pure abandon.

“I love it. Why? It’s the dance,” she says in her lightly accented English. Her eyes sparkle, and she doesn’t need to say any more. She’s found her home.

A friend at Macquarie University is running an introduction to human evolution course online as a MOOC. It runs for four weeks starting tomorrow and is called ” Becoming Human: Anthropology (BeHuman)” (link). Dancers may find this course of interest as it takes a look at how we “evolved from primates and became human.” I was a tutor for an extended on-campus version of this course several years ago and can highly recommend this online version to anyone with limited time available. MOOC courses are free and prerequisites not usually required.

UPDATE: Please note that if you missed it, this course is running multiple times, the next 27/05/2013 to 23/06/2013.

I haven’t posted here for a little while. I have been busy with other things like completing an online university course. And now that is finished, I have to worry about last year’s tax returns. But it has not all been work, we have just returned from a ten day holiday in the sun 🙂

I have to admit to having a little writers block at the moment which I will strive to overcome and write soon. If you have anything you would like to discuss here, feel free to mention it.

Guest post by Jessica Wallis

Jessica Wallis is the founder of Ballet in Cleveland, a classical ballet presenting company in Cleveland, Ohio. Her mission is to share the wonder of ballet with both boys and girls of all ages. Ballet in Cleveland is working on a presentation with the New York City Ballet in June.

Caption: The tuition-free program for younger boys at the School of American Ballet

One of George Balanchine’s most popular quotes is, “Ballet is woman.” With this quote, Balanchine aimed to highlight the long lines and artistry found when women danced on pointe, as paired with the delicate curves of their lean muscles, and even hair, as Balanchine ballerinas often had long hair that he occasionally called for them to wear loose during performances.

Loose locks displayed during the finale of Walpurgisnacht Ballet

Although Balanchine was certainly not amiss by highlighting the elegance and femininity inherent in ballet’s nature, he also did an effective job of choreographing steps that showcased the athleticism of male dancers. As society changes and we begin to broaden our scope of accepted norms, I must stop and think about the place of “boys in ballet”.

This weekend our non-profit classical ballet presentation company, Ballet in Cleveland, will have a table at a fundraiser for another local nonprofit, Art Sparks. We will be donating a Ballet in Cleveland t-shirt, a pair of decorated pointe shoes, and a scholarship to a master class with celebrity ballerina Allison DeBona in March. After I thought about what we would donate, I had a moment of pause: What if a boy receives the gift? A boy wouldn’t want a pair of pink pointe shoes. Immediately I pulled one of our black shirts to package as part of the gift, and began to re-think of what we could offer instead of pointe shoes. Even me, an individual who has had involvement with ballet for over 25 years, with a (hopefully) progressive attitude toward the art, had immediately defaulted to catering the gift to a young girl, and not a boy.

In 1992, Peter Martins, ballet master in chief of New York City Ballet (NYCB) and chairman of faculty at the School of American Ballet (SAB), started the boys’ program. His specific aim with this program was to create a class of only boys. Ballet classes, if they are primarily made up of girls, tend to focus on turns and other steps in which female dancers need to be strong. An all-boys class not only allows the freedom of curriculum to focus on jumps and strengthening that boys need, but it also can make them feel more comfortable and not overshadowed by girls. Years ago, at an audition at SAB, a seven-year-old boy, who was the only boy in his ballet class at the time, shared his thoughts on the subject: “I can’t take the pink anymore.”

In a recent 60 Minutes segment by Lesley Stahl about NYCB, I was pleased to see that males were primarily featured. A few minutes into the piece, Martins was shown encouraging and congratulating young boys backstage after a performance, He reminded them not to be “mechanical”, and coached them on musicality, one of the elements that sets NYCB dancers apart from those in other companies. Principal dancer Robert Fairchild was also featured. The piece showed Fairchild’s triumph during his first performance of Balanchine’s masterpiece, Apollo. The portion about him began with his description of being teased when he was young because he was the only boy in his ballet class. Sound familiar? He goes on to say that it was difficult to endure, but that if you love something so much, you have to follow it no matter what. And good thing he did- Fairchild is one of NYCB’s finest dancers who made his way through the ranks of the company very quickly through hard work and dedication to his art. What a role model, especially for young boys with an affinity for ballet. All in all, I was struck by the fact that 60 Minutes chose to showcase young boys backstage as well as a young man in a leading role, with minimal costuming and no set, and not the typical ballerina in her jeweled tutu and crown. That said, I value and appreciate the role of the ballerina and do not wish to downplay the huge part that female dancers play in ballet. Rather, I was glad to see that the focus for this piece was on a male artist and the significance of his debut in a role, and not the typical glitz and glam that is often associated with ballerinas and marketed to the masses.

Caption: Robert Fairchild as Apollo in Balanchine’s Apollo

It is worth noting that George Balanchine, known as “the father of American ballet” was reluctant to take ballet as a child, and didn’t even have a particular interest in it. However his mother loved the arts and had the young George audition with his sister, who shared her mother’s passion for ballet. In Russia, ballet does not have the stigma for boys that it has in America. Ballet is something revered, and involvement in it is looked upon honorably for members of both sexes. So as social norms and stigmas change, and we function under an administration that welcomes and promotes equality, let us hope that with this comes many boys in many ballet classes and debuting on many stages… even if they were dragged in by their sister or their mother to begin with.

I have been wrestling with the meaning of one word related to my dance research for a while now. “Motivation”

There are many sources that describe motivation from a psychological perspective. But I don’t want to go there. Often when I speak about motivation, people tend to think about how one individual can motivate another. Certainly when I use the word as a # tag I seem to draw in plenty of commercial enterprises trying to flog motivational blogs, presentations, books and speeches. Again this is not what I am really wanting to look at.

A little closer to my interest is how dancers motivate themselves. Discussions I have had on social media would suggest that many dancers don’t think consciously about what motivates them. This is hardly surprising since most of us think about what we are doing a lot more than why we are doing it. So one little question could open up the whole point I am trying to make, when a dancer says they dance professionally because “it is their life”, “it makes them feel good”, or “it is in their being”; I ask myself why? They are motivated to feel this way and I would like to discover what various forms this takes.


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